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PLN files suit over postcard-only policy at Macomb County, MI jail

Prison Legal News, July 2, 2015.

PRESS RELEASE
 
Human Rights Defense Center

For Immediate Release

Contact: Paul Wright, Executive Director

561-360-2523

pwright@prisonlegalnews.org
 
July 1, 2015

 

Publisher Files Lawsuit Against Macomb County Sheriff Challenging Jail’s Postcard-Only Mail Policy and Censorship


DETROIT, MI – Yesterday, Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly publication that sends information to prisoners to help them understand their rights and keep updated on important laws, filed a constitutional challenge under the First and Fourteenth Amendments against the censorship of 245 items that it mailed to prisoners at the Macomb County Jail and the Jail’s impermissibly restrictive postcard-only mail policy, which limits incoming correspondence to metered 5x7 inch white postcards. The Jail also restricts prisoners’ access to magazines and books, only allowing prisoners to subscribe to 12 titles, none of which remotely relate to prisoners’ legal rights, and only allow for the direct ordering of books through Amazon Prime. Further, PLN seeks injunctive relief to prevent Macomb County from continuing to enforce the postcard-only jail mail policy, and from continuing to deprive senders of censored mail of the right to equal protection and due process of law.

“County officials should not be in the business of arbitrarily restricting the First Amendment rights of prisoners and those outside of jail who want to correspond with them,” said Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News and executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center. “It is both astounding and unfortunate that in the 21st century we have to file suit against unconstitutional restrictions on written materials sent to prisoners – a form of communication that has existed since well before our nation was founded.”

Lance Weber, General Counsel for the Human Rights Defense Center and one of PLN’s attorneys, said, “It is undisputed that prisoners who maintain contact with their friends and family on the outside are less likely to wind up back in jail after release. Mail policies like this one that shut down communication between prisoners and their support networks only exacerbate the problem of mass incarceration and create other social costs.”

PLN has successfully challenged unconstitutional postcard-only policies and other forms of censorship at jails in other jurisdictions, including Columbia County, Oregon; Berkeley County, South Carolina; Ventura County, California; and Comal County, Texas. As recently as last month, a federal court in California entered a preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of a postcard-only mail policy in a similar suit filed by PLN against the Sheriff of San Diego County.

PLN is represented by HRDC General Counsel Lance Weber and Staff Attorney Sabarish Neelakanta; attorneys James Stewart and Elizabeth C. Lamoste with the Detroit-based law firm of Honigman Miller Schwartz & Cohn LLP; attorney Dan Manville, Director of the Civil Rights Clinic at the Michigan State University of Law; and attorneys Bruce E.H. Johnson and Angela Galloway with Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in Seattle, Washington.

The case is Prison Legal News v. Wickersham, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, Case No. 2:15-cv-12350-AC-MJH. 

 

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The Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990 and based in Lake Worth, Florida, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN is the largest and longest running journal focusing on prisoner rights issues nationwide and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.